Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will present “The Senses: Design Beyond Vision” exhibition, on view April 13 through Oct. 28, which examines how multisensory design amplifies everyone’s ability to receive information, explore the world, satisfy essential needs and experience joy and wonder. “The Senses” features direct sensory experiences and displays practical, innovative and exploratory products to touch, hear, see and smell. The exhibition invites visitors to encounter design with all their senses through several interactive installations, created in collaboration with contemporary designers, from a furry wall with digital sensors that play music to a scent commission by Christopher Brosius inspired by winter.
Organized by Ellen Lupton, senior curator of contemporary design, and Andrea Lipps, assistant curator of contemporary design, the exhibition includes work by more than 65 designers and teams and reveals how sensory design can solve problems and enhance life for all people, including those with sensory disabilities. Contemporary designers are experimenting with materials, exploring technology and embracing the differing needs and experiences of users, in order to heighten sensory awareness and improve daily life.
“Across all industries and disciplines, designers are avidly seeking ways to stimulate our sensory responses to solve problems of access and enrich our interactions with the world,” said Cooper Hewitt Director Caroline Baumann. “‘The Senses’ shares their discoveries and invites personal revelation of the extraordinary capacity of the senses to inform and delight. Within the inclusive environment created for the exhibition, there will be over 40 touchable objects, as well as services, such as audio and visual descriptions of the works on view, to ensure the exhibition will be welcoming to visitors of all abilities, an important step forward in our ongoing commitment to making Cooper Hewitt accessible to everyone.”
Designed to spark curiosity and wonder in every visitor, “The Senses” amplifies the intimate links between design and sensory experience. The projects on view activate touch, sound, smell, taste, sight and physical experience. A digital animation translates bird songs into bursts of color and motion. A light installation changes from cool to warm in response to visitors’ movements. Unusual vessels reveal the sonic and tactile properties of materials. Unique scents merge with materials, textures and words to build new memories and associations.
The exhibition demonstrates that by opening up to multiple sensory dimensions, designers reach a diverse range of users. Maps that can be touched as well as seen facilitate mobility and knowledge for sighted and non-sighted users. Audio devices translate sound into vibrations that can be felt on the skin. Tableware and kitchen tools use color and form to guide people living with dementia or vision loss. Each encounter with a product or installation activates the creative synergy of brain and body.
For “The Senses,” Cooper Hewitt has developed an accessible exhibition experience that welcomes visitors of all abilities. Exhibition labels will feature key elements in braille, and a custom smartphone app will connect visitors to full-length content via text or audio. Additional accessibility features include T-coil–enabled audio devices and audio descriptions explaining the visual content of videos. The museum now offers two descriptive exhibition tours a week, in which trained museum educators describe the works on view. With “The Senses: Design Beyond Vision,” Cooper Hewitt is testing new ways to share knowledge with diverse audiences; the museum will continue to include these accessibility features in future exhibitions and programs.
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